By Andrew Hood
Lithuanian Saulius Ruskys (Gerolsteiner) won Wednesday´s 232 km second stage of the Three Days of De Panne, but the big news was the crash by Belgian Andrei Tchmil
Ruskys won a sprint over Belgians Tom Steels and Nico Eeckhout while Stefano Zanini, the winner of the first stage, retained the overall lead. The 39-year-old Tchmil — a favorite for Sunday´s Tour of Flanders — went down with six other racers – Belgians Chris Peers, Kritof Found, Italians Dario Pieri, Paolo Bossoni and Daniele Bennati as well as French racer Robert Sassone.
Tchmil was the most seriously injured, with a double tear in his right femur muscle and two broken bones in his hands. The injury wasn’t as bad as originally reported, when first indications were that Tchmil had broken his leg. Still, it knocks out Tchmil and possibly even Pieri for Sunday.
The race concludes with Wednesday´s finale split into two stages: first a flat 118-kilometer stage in the morning followed by a 14-kilometer individual time trial in De Panne in the afternoon.
Lance Armstrong is riding so well he will skip the five-day Vuelta a Aragon (April 17-21) and instead race in Liege-Bastogne-Liege on April 21, U.S. Postal Service sport director Johan Bruyneel told the Spanish sports daily MARCA.
“Lance is in good form, better than this same time last year,” Bruyneel said. “But the best thing is that he’s done nothing special to be in such good shape.” So far this year, Armstrong has only raced four days (Milan-San Remo, Criterium International and Paris-Camembert) and barely missed overall victory at Criterium International (March 30-31).
Armstrong’s April schedule shapes up like this: Tour of Flanders (April 7), Ghent-Wevelgem (April 10), Ride For the Roses (April 13), Liege-Bastogne-Liege (April 21) and Amstel Gold (April 28).
Armstrong has finished second two times at Liege (1994, 1996), while at Flanders and Ghent, he’s a self-described worker for George Hincapie.
On Monday, Armstrong and Bruyneel inspected the course for the first individual time trial — 55-kilometers from Lanester to Lorient — for the 2002 Tour de France. “It’s hard. We liked it,” Bruyneel said.
Word now out of Mapei is that it’s likely world champion Oscar Freire will start Sunday´s Tour of Flanders.
Freire didn’t start Three Days of De Panne after doctors told him to not to start and to rest for two days to take pressure off minor tendonitis. Now, Manuel Rodriguez, Mapei’s team doctor, said Freire could start Flanders.
“I am sure Freire will be able to start Sunday at Flanders in perfect condition,” he said. “Because he trained so hard last week, two days of rest is nothing.” Freire was scheduled to make a test Wednesday to see if he’s OK to race in the second round of the World Cup, where he currently stands in fifth place.